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ALEPPO, Syria (AFP) – Syrian government forces have recaptured half the former rebel stronghold of east Aleppo, a monitor said, with the UN now facing a “race against time’’ to aid children forced out by the bloody offensive.
President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have made swift gains since their offensive against Aleppo – once Syria’s commercial powerhouse – began on November 15.
Tens of thousands of civilians have streamed out of the city’s east, and Russia has renewed calls for humanitarian corridors so aid can enter and desperate residents can leave.
Regime forces Friday “consolidated their control’’ over two eastern districts and were pushing further to squeeze the shrinking rebel enclave, said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman.
“After the recent advances, the regime is comfortably in control of half of former rebel territory in the city’s east,’’ he said Friday.
Dozens of families trickled out Friday, adding to the more than 50,000 people who have poured from east Aleppo into territory controlled by government forces or local Kurdish authorities, the Observatory said.
Among those fleeing are nearly 20,000 children, according to estimates by the UN’s children’s agency.
“What is critical now is that we provide the immediate and sustained assistance that these children and their families desperately need,’’ UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac said.
“It’s a race against time, as winter is here and conditions are basic.’’
The loss of east Aleppo – a rebel stronghold since 2012 – would be the biggest blow to Syria’s opposition in more than five years.
Earlier Friday, anti-government fighters had successfully rolled back regime gains in Sheikh Saeed on Aleppo’s southeastern outskirts.